“When federal regulators in 2010 instituted new ethics rules to prevent Wall Street executives from using campaign contributions to influence government investments,” our guest today, David Sirota, wrote recently in International Business Times. “they pointed to New Mexico as an example of a state mired in pay-to-play practices.”
The mire of bad investments made during the administration of Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, bad investments that, witnesses have testified, were tied to millions of dollars in payoffs made to close political friends of the governor, proved to be a gold mine for Richardson’s successor, Republican Susana Martinez. Her 2 gubernatorial triumphs in 2010 and 2014 were fueled by her attacks on her predecessor’s alleged pay-to-play proclivities.
As I’ve said before, there are two basic flaws in pay-to-play deals. First, of course, they corrupt public business, allowing public officials or their associates to enrich themselves with illegal benefits, and second, the corrupted selection process directs contracts to firms selected not for their competence but for their corruption. Often they perform accordingly.
Lawyers for the NM State Investment Council have made both points in recovering more than $30 million from investment companies caught paying off accused middlemen like the father-son team of Anthony and Mark Correra.
Referencing the moral environment of the Richardson administration, Martinez declared, “Corruption is a crime, not an ethical dilemma. Those guilty of corruption are criminals and they should be treated as such….Public officials who know about, but fail to report, pay-to-play activity,” she said, “don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye.”
But David Sirota says, his IBT/MapLight investigation “shows that when it comes to campaign cash from managers of state investments, Martinez turned a blind eye to the ethical standards she championed.”
Since 2013, Sirota found, New Mexico taxpayers have paid at least $14.3 million to nine financial firms whose donors gave more than $1.2 million to political groups backing Martinez.
David Sirota is International Business Times’ senior editor for investigations. He is also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a bestselling author. He lives in Denver, Colorado and covers the intersection of money, politics and finance. He appears periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) The New York Times Magazine, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com. He also has served as a journalist and consultant on documentaries for CNN and The National Geographic Channel. In 2014, he was the winner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ investigative journalism award, and the winner of the Izzy Award for Journalism from Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media. He was also a finalist for UCLA’s Gerald R. Loeb Award and Syracuse University’s Mirror Award. Before becoming a journalist in 2006, Sirota worked in Washington for, among others, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Minority Staff and the Center for American Progress. He also worked on political campaigns.